Obama's signature: Is it real or is it autopenned?

By NANCY BENAC | June 26, 2011 | 8:30 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's the open secret that nobody in government wants to talk about.

That cherished presidential signature that's tucked away in a scrapbook or framed for all to see? Well, it might never have passed under the president's hand.

For decades, presidents of both parties have let an autopen do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to scrawling their signatures. The machine was recently put to use signing a bill into law, apparently a first.

President Barack Obama was overseas last month and out of reach when lawmakers passed an extension of certain provisions of the Patriot Act. Obama used the autopen to sign it, a step the White House has been mum about ever since.