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Still, when everyone gathered that Wednesday evening after dinner to sit for an impromptu portrait in the wood-paneled cabin, he was game, relaxed, nestling in with the others without complaint. Hackers, Leakers and Activists: The New Political Prisoners At 26 years old, Aaron Swartz had established himself as a singular force bridging the worlds of technology and activism – a young man driven by a restless curiosity and the belief that information was the most valuable of currencies, a form of wealth no one should be deprived of.As a teen programming prodigy, he had helped to develop RSS, the now-ubiquitous tool allowing users to self-syndicate information online, and at 19 he was one of the builders of Reddit, the social news site that was purchased by Condé Nast, which turned Swartz into a millionaire before he could legally order a beer.

But just as his lanky frame and quiet disposition belied an inner ferocity, Swartz's demeanor that Wednesday seems, in retrospect, to mask more truths than it illuminated.

Two years earlier, he had been arrested for allegedly hacking the servers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to steal millions of files from an online library of academic journals, and the federal government had, in the years since, been unrelenting in its quest to ensure that his punishment would be severe.

To pore over the countless blogs that paid tribute to him was to understand how starkly his ambitions differed from so many of his peers: Unlike, say, Mark Zuckerberg, who built an online empire by corralling and monetizing private information, Swartz dedicated himself to limiting the amount of power institutions could wield over individuals.

And to see the hundreds who turned out to honor him at memorials across the country – hackers, politicians, artists, writers, old-guard technologists – was to discover the vast and eclectic network of colleagues Swartz had amassed in the course of a short life.

"There's a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens on the Internet in terms of traditional things the law understands," he stated in May 2012, in a keynote speech given at the Freedom to Connect Conference.