Common criminal or much-needed whistle-blower? The Edward Snowden case divided opinion among the dignitaries, diplomats and academics at the World Peace Forum in Beijing. But they all agreed that international collaboration was needed to draw up ground rules to make the internet more secure. Roy Stapleton, a former US ambassador to Beijing, saw no connection between Snowden's release of information on US National Security Agency hacking and surveillance and the issue of cybersecurity. "He's a criminal who stole and made public government classified documents he should not have gained access to," said Stapleton, who served in Beijing from 1991 to 1995 and went on to head the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. Stapleton defended the US cybersnooping programme, saying it had been approved by Congress and was carried out in accordance with the law. Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank, labelled Snowden a felon and said he acted against the laws of most countries - including China. But Asian representatives at the conference were more sympathetic to Snowden, who revealed in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post that the NSA had hacked civilian targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Tsinghua University. Chen Xiaogong , a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress, said Snowden had not only disclosed how the US government monitored its own citizens, but how it launched cyberattacks against other countries. "Why do you break into the network of a Chinese university? Is it out of the need to fight terrorism?" Chen asked. "Of course people would ask such questions, but the Americans haven't offered an explanation." Ehsan Haq, a Pakistani army general who served as the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Pakistan military until October 2008, said Snowden's disclosures had shed light on the unchecked cyberespionage of the NSA. Haq said Snowden's claims demonstrated the importance of developing universal ground rules to uphold cybersecurity. Chen said one rule should be that non-military facilities ought not be targeted either by government-sponsored programmes or individual hackers. Stapleton said there was international consensus that no basic infrastructure should be targeted in cyberattacks, and that any such attack could be interpreted as an act of war. But in the area of government espionage, there was no way of establishing ground rules because of the need for secrecy.