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Obama's 'Autopen' Used To Sign Fiscal Cliff Bill From 4,800 Miles Away

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On Wednesday evening President Obama signed Congress' new fiscal cliff bill into law while on vacation in Hawaii. Just how did the POTUS accomplish this? With the help of the handy "autopen."

According to Mashable, the technology works by copying a signer's pen strokes and storing them for when the user is not present. NPR notes that this is at least the third time Obama has used the device during his presidency. One earlier use of the device came in May 2011, when Obama signed a Patriot Act extension while attending the G8 Summit in France; another came in November 2011, when he signed an emergency spending bill while in Indonesia.

Obama's use of the autopen in instances where time or distance is an issue has not been without controversy, however. The Obama administration defers criticism of the practice by citing a 2005 decision by the Justice Department that gives the commander-in-chief the ability to direct a subordinate to affix his signature (via autopen) to a bill he has approved.

While other presidents and officials have used and do use a similar version of the autopen to duplicate signatures for letters and memorabilia -- even Thomas Jefferson is said to have used a primitive version of the machine to avoid copying the same letters over and over -- NPR notes that Obama may be the first to use the technology to sign a bill into law.

With the leader of the free world's signature equipped, the autopen is a rather powerful device. "I always heard the autopen was the second-most guarded thing in the White House after the president," said Jack Shock, Bill Clinton's director of presidential letters and messages, according to the Associated Press.

Take a look at the video above to see the autopen in action.

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